Yes, fine, we went to McDonalds.

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

I don’t think I’ll be taking Annie to Tokyo.

 Not that it was part of the plan for this trip, anyway, but one swipe at Osaka left her mumbling and shell shocked. And hungry again, for some reason, but a quick walk to Pontocho solved that.Although I will tell you that the sign “we have english menu” is not as helpful as it sounds, when the staff do not themselves speak English.

We had made a trip to the National Bunraku Theater in Osaka, which is the premier venue in Japan to see Bunraku and Kabuki theater.For those of you who haven’t wasted hours of your life mired in the minutae of a tiny island country that, other than having made your Camry, is of little interest to you, Bunraku is traditional Japanese puppet theater.And before you laugh and say “puppets? like muppets?”(actually, I first saw Bunraku ON the muppet show when I was a kid and thought it was pretty damn cool) don’t start laughing yet – some of the performers, who are completely visible to the audience while they operated the puppets in teams of 3 per puppet, have been deemed “living national treasures” by the Japanese government.I know, but please hold your laughter until the end.In order to ascend the ranks of Bunraku puppetry, one must spend about 10 years operating the legs (which is a pain in the ass, I think, because female puppets don’t actually have legs), then 10 years operating the left arm, and then you get to run the right arm and head.

Now, go ahead and laugh if you wish.

But it is an intense experience, partially because an old Japanese man is reading the story from a raised dais like a Cantor reads the Torah.Some of these men, apparently also deemed Living National Treasures, are amazing.Accompanied by a man playing a Shamisen, sort of a 3 stringed guitar, this guy tells the story in traditional Japanese, which apparently is so difficult to understand that the Japaneseneed subtitles, or supertitles, as it was there.

Anyway, that play, which ran 4 hours, was all fox-demons and kimono and seppuku and Noh music, interrupted only by a snack time (well placed for A) in which the entire audience appeared to be aware that they could bring their own food and immediately poured out into the lobby to eat their food quietly and quickly.

As soon as it was over, we headed out to Osaka proper.And straight into Las Vegas crossed with 5th Avenue on Thanksgiving weekend.It was a national holiday, which meant no school and thousands of kids and adults jammed into the streets.Music videos blaring in the streets from giant billboards visible from Space – where you can see their reflection on the moon if you look carefully, I think.After an hour of this spectacle/eye torture, Annie had had enough – “find me a Starbucks” she declared.So I left her at the international point of refuge to explore on my own.I don’t think she was a fan.

After a couple hours of crazieness for me and cafe time for A, it was back to Kyoto for a quiet dinner in Pontocho of daikon oden, octopus tempura, and various pickled vegetables.

But yesterday was the reason we came to Kyoto.After a rather difficult trip to rent bicycles, which included A losing her ticket while mid-journey (I have now can mark off “being scolded and admonished in Japanese by a public official” off in my “to do in Japan” lit), and a stern admonition from the bike rental place (“Park only in designated areas.Do not do what Japanese people do.They do not care about their bicycles.They are cheap.”) it was off to Chishaku-In, a temple and garden complex in Southern Higashiyama.

Other than a rather violent fall into the street straight in front of a City Bus, Annie did well riding for the first time since childhood.And it was worth the peril.

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Chishaku-In is a temple of the Chizan School of Shingon Buddhism. Built in 1585, the original garden has been attributed to the tea master Sen no Rikyu.  If I didn't think I needed to get Annie something to eat, I'd still be there now.  But once again, other than being amazingly beautiful, it raised lots of questions.  

For one thing, we were reminded once again of the idiocy of Japanese tourism.Here was one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, and other than a single tour group, and a couple of errant travelers, the place was completely empty.We thought perhaps it was because it was a weekday, but that myth was dispelled at Kiyomizu Dera, which was packed like a Taylor Swift

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concert (like the pop culture reference? I know, most of you don’t know who that is, and anyone who reads this in the future won’t either).

Ok, the view is cool and it’s a cool building, but the walk isn’t that far from one to the other.

It was going to take a lot to clear the disappointment of Kiyomizu Dera from A's mind, so a quick jaunt to the Tanai Meguri (womb walk) was in order.Truthfully, I had no idea what it was, and every guide I read refused to say.All they said was, you have to go.So 100 yen later I was walking down a deep staircase into a cavern devoid of light or any guide whatsoever.I’m as horrified by subway gropers as anyone, and I am troubled that Japan has to have a dedicated women’s only subway car, and that there are men who patrol the subways with uniforms and armbands as part of an anti-groping campaign, but a few minutes into having no idea where I was going and wondering if I would eventually just be eaten by a minotaur, I reached out and put my hand on the shoulder of the woman in front of me.Sorry lady, I want to be polite, and all, but I don’t want to die.

I think a Japanese person might have just chosen death. I suppose you learn a lot about yourself in these situations.

Anyway, I’m going to respect the tradition and not say what was down there.It really was odd, that’s all I’ll say, and I can’t give you the explanation because it was in Japanese spoken too fast and too complicated to understand.

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At this point, we retrieved our bicycles from the designated parking lot (where only bicycles from our rental place were parked – I smell kickbacks….) and we were off to Kodai-Ji.

One more fall from her bicycle and A and I made it just as night fell.In her defense, by the way, Japanese streets are not exactly made for biking.Or driving.Or really both plus pedestrians.

One new phenomenon in Southern Higashiyama is that a few temples have decided to open at night and illuminate the paths in the fall for visitors.Here, for the first time, we and the tourists all agreed that we had found something amazing.

Chion-In had the same opportunity, and we visited there as well.Here, I figured, at least the Japanese wouldn’t do something insane.As the rain began to pour and everyone magically pulled out umbrellas that we had never seen them carrying before, now for the second day in a row, I could hear the sound of a piano playing, almost as if it was coming from the main temple.That was impossible, of course, since these were sacred spaces where you couldn’t take pictures or approach the altar or, presumably, set up your huge loudspeakers and your Casio 3000 electric piano and put on a concert in the middle of the night.

At least one of those statements is incorrect, to my surprise.Anyway, it really was raining pretty hard, so it was a fine opportunity to sit and not get rained on.  Even after, however, it was worth continuing on despite the rain, if only thanks to Jean's amazingly rain-resistant wool cap (thanks Jean!) and the overpowering beauty of our surroundings.  

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Chion-In had the same opportunity, and we visited there as well.Here, I figured, at least the Japanese wouldn’t do something insane.As the rain began to pour and everyone magically pulled out umbrellas that we had never seen them carrying before, now for the second day in a row, I could hear the sound of a piano playing, almost as if it was coming from the main temple.That was impossible, of course, since these were sacred spaces where you couldn’t take pictures or approach the altar or, presumably, set up your huge loudspeakers and your Casio 3000 electric piano and put on a concert in the middle of the night.

At least one of those statements is incorrect, to my surprise.Anyway, it really was raining pretty hard, so it was a fine opportunity to sit and not get rained on.

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At the end of the night, which included a visit to a traditional Japanese tea house in an amazing garden at Chion-In, testing my ability to be obsequiously polite in Japanese (ever use the phrase “Please forgive me for leaving before you” in Japanese?I had not), ), we decided to push the bicycles home, after A discovered she could crash her bicycle without even riding it.

And really, wet, tired, and in pain from walking continuously since 9 am, up dozens of long flights of stone steps on this and that mountain, standing in some of the most beautiful gardens in the world, drinking fine tea and eating perfectly prepared bento lunches, we can be forgiven for our visit to McDonalds and a couple of quarter pounders and fries.